A group of friends vacationing in Chile are partying at a nightclub when a devastating earthquake hits. They escape the rubble and make it to the streets, but the city is in chaos, especially when the tsunami warning sirens start going off. While trying to get a severely injured friend to the hospital and make it to safety themselves, the group finds more and more dangers lurking, because the quake has also caused a local prison to collapse and now the criminals are free, taking advantage of the situation to cause more chaos.
Disaster movies already inherently have a touch of horror in them, and Aftershock manages to break the mold on both on both genres by continuously giving us plot twists that are unexpected. You can guess who is going to live or die and when, but you'll be wrong. The setup before the earthquake happens lets you figure out who you like as you meet the bumbling Gringo, the gregarious Pollo, the comic relief Ariel, the sweet Irina, the party girl Kylie, and the wetblanket Monica. How exactly they all know each other and came to be together is not really explained but together they're a fun group. Shot entirely in Chile, the locations are gorgeous and colorful, a great contrast to the tempered hues in the last half of the film.
So I feel like I've been really unfair to Eli Roth. I've said before that though I like his movies a lot, he kind of annoys me as a person. I saw him as being somewhat arrogant and full of himself, and maybe that was just a weird form of jealousy. As a writer and specifically as an actor, Roth proves himself to me with Aftershock. As the character known only as Gringo, he is more likable than I've ever seen him before and his acting skills have hit an all-time high. He is sincere and at times heartbreaking, especially in the scene where he is trapped under a pillar and confronted by the group of prisoners who want to rape the girls. This is where the movie might lose some people, but this scene and a few others are saved from being overly horrible by showing a lot of heart for the characters, maybe even some that you didn't like at first.
There is gore aplenty in Aftershock both from the earthquake devastation and the human rampage. I've heard some say that the film has a bit of an "exploitative" streak, but I didn't get that feeling at all, even after reading that Aftershock at first received an NC-17 rating. Even the rape scenes are not terribly graphic and in fact, I was more disturbed by the part where one character is burned alive because, well, fire is terrifying and not the best way to go out. There's also some business with axes and guns and hands getting torn off, and it's all done well and realistically. Except the CGI fire which I understand in that situation couldn't have been avoided. The city disaster scenes are also well shot and quite beautiful. Locations from the real earthquake that happened in Chile in 2010 were apparently used (though I don't know which ones) which gives the story a whole other sense of realism. Lopez and Roth actually developed the idea for the movie from the true experiences of Lopez after that disaster.
When the final survivor escapes onto the beach, you know the big ending that is coming but you are still happy to see it. All in all, a satisfying conclusion to a movie I didn't know much about and probably never would have if I hadn't given it the chance it deserves.
But seriously, what was with the dead aborted babies side story? It only has resonance with one character, and it doesn't have anything to do with the rest of the plot. It's good for one last shock and gross-out, but really kind of uncalled for.